Growing use of natural ingredients in the UK food and drink industry took on greater importance this week in anticipation of a new study again linking widely used additives to behavioural problems in children.
Several artificial additives, including sunset yellow (E110), allura red AC (E129) and the preservative sodium benzoate, reportedly increased risk of hypaeractivity and unruly behaviour in young children.
Full details of the study, conducted by researchers at Southampton University for the Food Standards Agency (FSA), were unavailable until it is published.
It is not the first time artificial colours have been linked to behavioural problems in children, and news of the study may hasten an industry move towards natural ingredients.
In dairy, natural ingredients are increasingly seen as crucial in preserving dairy products' image as 'naturally healthy'.
Claims linking certain artificial additives, known in the EU as 'E-numbers', to hyperactivity have been around since the 1970s.
But things became more serious in the UK when an FSA-funded study reported in 2001 that various artificial additives could cause 'adverse reactions' in children.
Deliberations on the work, known as the Isle of White study, by the FSA's Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, eventually resulted in no formal advice to consumers, however. "Firm conclusions" could not be reached, the committee said.
One of the additives in question, the sodium benzoate preservative, has had a scandal all of its own recently.
An investigation by BeverageDaily.com found last year that several soft drinks industry and US government officials had known for 15 years that sodium benzoate could degrade to form benzene, a potentially cancerous chemical, when used in drinks alongside ascorbic acid (vitamin C) or citric acid.
Debate over a wider range of additives now looks set to return to the public spotlight this year. And food and drink firms are reacting by changing their formulas.
A new range of functional milk and yoghurt drinks aimed at school children, launched by Dairy Farmers of Britain in March, contains natural fruit, with no artificial colours or flavourings.
Kate-Anne Kelly, brand manager for liquid milk at the group, told DairyReporter.com that use of natural fruits helped to maintain flavour and taste in the drinks despite their reduced sugar and fat content.
Many in the food and drink industry believe natural flavours and ingredients will be a major growth driver over the next five years.